Friday, 22 May 2009

Should I stay or should I go…

IN the words of the song by The Clash “if I go there will be trouble, if I stay it will be double”. Such is the dilemma facing the double jobbing DUP MLAs, after party boss Peter Robinson declared that the double mandate members will have to choose.

Stark choices face the honourable members of the House of Commons, with Peter promising a summer re-shuffle of his executive party colleagues and committee chairmen (and woman that is his Parliamentary companion and wife…).

The basic equation goes: £64,000 a year salary as an MP or £43,000 as an MLA. Plus of course, expenses for offices, etc.

But it would be churlish – and in fairness probably wrong – to say that any of our politicians would be make a choice based on money.

Instead we have a proposal that would change the faces at the top table at Stormont, strengthen the DUP’s representation at Westminster (the MPs would be able to go to the Commons more than two days a week) and new blood could be introduced.

And only the most cynical of observers would say that the announcement from the First Minister comes as a result of an impending report to Parliament that is expected to condemn double jobbing.

Civil war in North Down

THE leafy glades of North Down have turned into a bloody political battleground of local politics. The tranquil avenues of Cultra and Helen’s Bay (not to mention Bangor West) have reverberated with a veritable shouting match.

First we had Lady Sylvia’s “Tory? Not !” statements, followed quickly by the Sunday Life’s revelation that Ulster Unionist Councillor Diane Peacock hadn’t been attending council meetings too often. Then came the decision of the UUP association chairman in North Down, Mark Brook, to quit his party for the DUP.

Some might have seen North Down as potentially a target for the Conservatives in the forthcoming Westminster election. With it’s higher than average property values, lower than average unemployment rates and sheer numbers of Mercedes Benz and BMW’s on the roads, it could be transplanted directly from middle England.

But with the political civil war in full flow it was a wise move by Conservative leader David Cameron to avoid Cultra and its environs when he visited Northern Ireland earlier in the week. Portadown and Ballymena must have seemed a safer bet.

Does the pupil have a note to explain their absence?

THERE was a furore when the Irish News reported that Education Minister Catriona Ruane had taken her daughter out of school for 3 days so she could join her mother on a visit to Cyprus.

It has to be the ultimate absence note – one signed by the Education Minister. After all, if your school really, really wants an impromptu inspection then it would be a brave principal that would pick up the phone to ask the Catriona Ruane to explain why their offspring was off during term time.

Ruane’s stout defence of a parent’s right to absent their child from class rang hollow for some. There must come a point where the media considers the implications for the child. One can only imagine the reaction of her daughter’s classmates to the story, which received widespread coverage in the local press.

And, one can only imagine the reaction of the Minister when news broke that the Irish Government announced that it was not continuing to jointly fund the Middletown Autism Centre of Excellence in Armagh.

Beleaguered Ruane insisted that it would not be the end of the centre. But one has to wonder what it heralds in terms of funding from the Republic.

The €400 million promised by the Irish Government for infrastructure developments in the north (better roads to you and me) could also be at serious risk, given the perilous state of public sector finances south of the border.

And, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is reporting a 26 per cent increase in visitors from the Republic, and a shopping centre in Banbridge reporting a 20 per cent increase in sales thanks to southern shoppers.

It would be a brave member of the Dáil who would recommend better roads to take the euros across the border.

Catalonia visit

ROOM 144 at Parliament Buildings was unusually quiet on Wednesday afternoon. Normally buzzing with debate and rancour as the Committee of the First Minister and deputy First Minister holds forth on the many topics that come within its remit, this week silence descended on the room.

No, members had not fallen asleep – instead they were off to Spain. Or, more precisely Catalonia to find out how the devolved Catalonian assembly managed to work as a region of Spain within the EU.

Important stuff no doubt. But given the expenses fiasco could they not have simply sent an email, written a letter, picked up the phone?

Average temperature in Barcelona on Friday was 24 degrees Celsius. The average temperature in Belfast on Friday was 16 degrees celsius. Nah, that email idea just wouldn’t have worked.

Better to meet face-to-face in Catalonia.

Election around the corner

JUST a couple of weeks to go and the European poll will take place amidst a backdrop of limited understanding as to what Europe does for NI, now that the Troubles has ceased to be a reason for Brussels to dole out dosh to it.

Of course, a sensible answer would be to point out how European administrators have helped rein in greedy phone companies excessive charging for cross-border roaming; how Europe has enacted important environmental controls; or even that many laws administered locally are interpretations of what has already been set by Europe.

But the truth of the matter is that the real reason for a European poll is that we can all indulge in a sectarian headcount. And then we can all mull over the battles within the Unionist camp, judge whether the old guard has retained its status, and see just how many first preference votes Sinn Féin grabs.

Then we can let Europe get along its merry way and do all the stuff we don’t need to know about but affects our lives each and every day.